Monday, March 15, 2010

The Kids are Great at St. Albert the Great

I just returned from a photo trip to Illinois for the Illinois Farm Bureau’s Partners Magazine.

Over the course of the week, my assignments included shooting a woodcarver, a maple “sirup” producer, a bison farm, the town of Naperville, a gem and mineral museum and a restaurant that specializes in dishes with a distinctive local flair. Each one a treat in and of itself.

But perhaps the best assignment was shooting the students at St. Albert the Great School in Burbank, IL.

The kids in Debbie Jimenez’s class have been focusing on agriculture in their social studies curriculum and have used it as a catalyst to reach out to pen pals across the country; some of which have sent the kids photos from their farms that hang around the classroom.

It was also the best way to start off my week.

Ms. Jimenez had the students working on a nutrition project during my visit. They broke down food products into the six foods groups and then divided them even further into each region of the country from which the products originate.

At the end, they got to make bracelets and bookmarks they can use as visual reminders of how many servings of each food group they need to eat every day for a healthy diet.

But most importantly, they were excited to have me there taking pictures. You don’t always have a receptive subject that wants to be photographed. I had over 20 that were willing to give me the honor of taking their picture.

As a photographer, most of time I’m taking from my subjects. It’s not quite stealing their soul, but it comes close. I consider it a privilege to take someone’s picture. That’s something they give to me. And about the only thing I can offer in return is making a nice picture that will make it into the magazine or website. But hopefully, it’s something they can cherish and share with others.

After about two hours my shoot came to a close.

And then, Ms. Jimenez turned the tables on me. An assignment that was intended to document agricultural programs in the classroom quickly turned into a question and answer session on what it’s like to be a traveling photographer.

It started out as a game to identify my accent and home state. By the end of it, we were talking about how many states I’d traveled to, if I’d taken photos of celebrities and which ones, to my favorite state to visit and if the umbrellas I was using were actually umbrellas.

As I was leaving, they presented me with another gift, a goodie bag full of snacks for my weeklong drive around the state.

But it wasn’t until I was on the road again, that noticed the real treat they gave me.

Tucked down in the bottom of the bag were pictures they had drawn for me. They all had an agricultural theme: some were animals, there were a few barns and even an ear of corn or two. And on the back, they wrote details about each one.

“Sheep’s wool is used for clothes.” “Most farms have more than one barn.” “Cows are milked twice a day.” “Almost all farm animals eat hay.” “Pigs give birth laying down.” “A foal is a baby horse.” “Sheep can be black or white.” “Baby pigs are piglets.”

If you wanted to know if this program was successful, you only need to read the back of these pictures.

For me, I’m going to hang these pictures on my fridge and maybe learn a little about agriculture in the process.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Another Bird in the Hand

"A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush."

An old proverb meaning that it is better to be content with what one has instead of attempting to get more and risk losing everything.

But what if a bird eats off of your shoe? What is its value then?

If you’re the folks at Sylvan Heights Waterfowl Park in Scotland Neck, NC, it’s the chance to educate people about our fine-feathered-friends and their important role in the ecosystem.

Through a process called imprinting, the bird’s natural tendency to latch onto the first thing it sees, generally its mother, they are able to raise the birds with humans taking on the role of the mother. (Mind you, this happens to only a select few birds. The others are raised with minimal human interaction.)

Their view of humans changes, making them open to human interaction.

I got to meet two of these birds during a recent trip to Sylvan Heights: Lola, a Coscoroba Swan, and Sweet Pea, an Andean Goose gosling.

After photographing some of the birds in the hatchery, I was given the chance to get up close and personal with Sweet Pea. I must admit it’s a strange feeling having a bird pecking at your feet, looking for food. And definitely not shy about it at all.

My last up close and personal visit with one of our fine feathered friends was while I was walking my dog, Bossa, around a lake one warm afternoon. A goose took exception to Bossa and decided to open a can of whoop-ass on my 120 pound chocolate lab. Needless to say, my dog is a gentle giant and turned tail and tried to outrun the goose. The only problem was he attached to me by a rather short leash. Picture me being pulled in one direction by a scared lab and trying to fend off a very ill-tempered goose with my opposite leg. Truly, a funniest home video in the making.